Bayard Winthrop wasn’t buying the notion that American-made apparel had to be either expensive or shoddy to have a shot at success. E-commerce gave him a means to disprove the premise.
His new men’s sportswear venture, American Giant, launched earlier this month at american-giant.com with a tight, basic assortment — cotton sweatshirts in five silhouettes and between four and seven colors in S-M-L-XL sizing and at prices ranging from $59 to $89. No trim. No lettering across the front. And no imports, either.
“I always considered ‘high price or poor quality’ a false choice,” said Winthrop, a former investment banker who was previously the president and principal of Chrome, the accessories firm. “One of the reasons that so many great U.S. brands have been moving overseas is that they’ve been stuck in an outdated distribution model. Corners were being cut to protect margins.”
Typically, he noted, a product made in the Far East might cost $20 but, after wholesale and retail markup, wind up selling for $100 before being marked down. Winthrop wanted to “reset the paradigm” by having the product made — and well — in the U.S. and then selling it to consumers over a Web site.
Seeking investors for the idea, he was directed to Donald Kendall, the nonagenarian who headed PepsiCo as chief executive officer and orchestrated Pepsi Cola’s 1965 merger with Frito Lay on his way to the ceo post, from which he retired in 1986. Winthrop’s business plan appealed to Kendall on several levels, moving him to provide the initial investment of slightly less than $5 million that the young executive was attempting to raise for his start-up.
“I’ve always been interested in disruptive business models, and I believe this is one,” Kendall said in an e-mail to WWD. “American Giant understands that there is a fundamental shift under way in terms of supporting American industry and refocusing on quality. The direct-to-consumer-online business model is what makes it possible to deliver a better quality-value product made here in America.”
Kendall has had experience with apparel and accessories companies, both at PepsiCo and since, and is a firm believer that “great-quality products and customer service” are the building blocks to brand success. “The apparel category has suffered from inefficient and outdated distribution models that leave lots of room for cost savings,” he said. “If you redeploy those savings back into product and customer service, you create real opportunity, no matter what sector.”
American Giant certainly is following those guidelines. This week, Winthrop was coping with a launch that had moved “way beyond our expectations” and was marking the occasion not with a Champagne toast but with what he described as “good company bonding,” as he and his staff of 10 were pitching in on shipping the product. They’re working against expectations of about $1 million in first-year sales as they prepare to expand the line into T-shirts, jackets and other tops in the coming months.
Although Kendall wasn’t on the front lines to help with shipping, the esprit de corps appealed to him. “I love working with start-ups and the opportunity to work with young people who are excited about what they’re doing,” he said. “I look for great management teams that have an inherent understanding of and belief in product quality and who want to get to know their customer. I look for long-term commitment to brand building and customer loyalty. Those things take time, but the payoffs usually justify the wait.”
For Winthrop and Kendall, some of the reward could come in the form of confirmation of their mutual belief that American-made products can, in Kendall’s words, “meet or exceed quality and value expectations [and] build long-term loyalty. If American manufacturers can do that, I believe they will find customers eager to support them. American-made products in the apparel space tended to be priced only for the wealthy consumer. I believe the real opportunity is delivering on that promise for the mainstream consumer.”
American Giant’s products are being produced close to its San Francisco offices, at SFO Apparel in Brisbane, Calif., which employs about 150 sewers. Winthrop would eventually like to supplement that production with some in-house manufacturing but has no timetable for such a move.
Even a quarter-century after his retirement, Kendall continues to wear a suit every day, “but you’ll also find me in an American Giant sweatshirt during my morning workouts or on the weekends.”
@tradesy is turning the concept of a showroom upside down with its new space in Santa Monica. Here, the company plans to hold events, art exhibits and a showcase rare fashion pieces like this Louis Vuitton boxing set. Get all the details on Tradesy’s first showroom on WWD.com. #wwdnews
Spotted last night at the @erdem x @hm launch event: Kate Bosworth, Rashida Jones, Kirsten Dunst and Selma Blair. The party, which took place in LA, also marked the opening of their pop-up shop. “I was interested in creating a collection that wasn’t in any way disposable. It was about pieces you’d create and keep forever, things that have a permanence to it,” designer Erdem Moralioglu said. #wwdeye (📷: Katie Jones)
Renee Zellweger in yellow in 2001 and again in 2017. Chosen as one of the 12 @pantone Leading Spring Colors (and dubbed “Meadowlark”), it only makes sense that the bright hue stands the test of time and is making a resurgence this season, seen already on stars like @blakelively and @gigihadid. (📷: Donato Sardello & @rexfeatures) #wwdfashion #tbt
Dior’s 70th anniversary celebration continues with a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Christian Dior,” which is scheduled to run through March 18, takes a look at the founders tenure from 1947 to 1057 and feature 40 designs. Pictured here is an evening gown from the Ailée, fall 1948-49 haute couture collection. #wwdfashion (📷: Brian Boyle)
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews